“It’s a paradise, and it’s a warzone.”
Take a bowl brimming with a really catchy RnB beat, and add a pinch— or, for the ultimate Zayn Malik punch, perhaps a spoonful of clear, stunning vocals. Place it upon a slow flame and let it simmer, stirring at regular intervals, letting it slowly gain that smooth, rich quality, tinged with passion and a slightly dark undertone. Pour into a jug and watch it quickly rise all the way to the top— and voila! You’ve got yourself a hit single by one of the most sensational artists of this decade.
Pillow Talk, former boy band member Zayn Malik’s debut single, has made it clear that he is truly ready to go in a completely different direction (his pun, not mine!) with his music. I have never really been a fan of the British heartthrobs, only having heard a few songs here and there. However, I had definitely expressed a particular interest in Zayn’s new song, as I found his decision to leave the band quite impressive (please don’t kill me, fangirls!), and wanted to see what he’d make of his new-found freedom. The first time I heard Pillow Talk was on the radio, hidden among a jumble of other ordinary songs— and to be honest, it didn’t really make much of an impression. For a new entry into the world of R&B, it was pretty good, but the song isn’t really breaking any new ground in the genre.
Malik tweeted while leaving One Direction that he was ready to make #realmusic, quickly disregarding the pop tunes that had given his career the boost that it needed. Needless to say, the world was expecting this single to indicate a graceful transition into soulful R&B, which it did— to a certain extent. The music was, well, music to the ears, but I felt that the crudeness of the lyrics slightly, if not completely, nullified the beauty of the song. The drastic change that Zayn made in his music was glaringly apparent in his lyrics, which gave off an “I’m breaking free from these chains that bind me” vibe. He seemed pretty desperate to shake off the residues of his pretty boy image, as he screamed “I’m no longer in a boy band so I can finally make my songs PG-worthy!” with his raw lyrics and graphic music video. Unfortunately for you, Zayn, there’s still a distinct boy band undercurrent to your music that, try as you might, you just cannot stop us from hearing.
A major part of the song seemed to be a tribute to the words ‘paradise’ and ‘warzone’, as Malik emphasized the contradicting aspects of, well, pillow talk. However, the excessive use of such a cliché made me cringe. I’ve come across comments from One Direction fanatics who have vehemently expressed how they are certain that the lyrics are directly related to a particular relationship from Zayn’s past— and rest assured, I believe them, for I doubt anybody knows the singer better than they do. However, I come back to the fact that despite the song having been intended as soulful and unique, Malik’s wishes were not entirely fulfilled as the lyrics reeked of clichés. The end product was a typical top 40 R&B song.
The music video was something that came as an absolute shocker—and not even in the way that it shocked all his infatuated fangirls (Gigi, why?!); no, perhaps the video had some deep artistic significance, some way for the listener to become convinced that Pillow Talk is, in fact, both a paradise and a warzone. However, as an average viewer with no artistic sense to speak of, I personally could not see how it served that purpose. It was bizarre and slightly creepy, what with the excessive use of the kaleidoscope effect. In a way, the video was reminiscent of Taylor Swift’s chart topper, ‘Style’; abstract and artsy, yet not the easiest to comprehend. Whatever it is that these artists and their producers wish to express, the message is getting lost in the interpretation. Still, a cause of astonishment is that in both cases, the videos seem to be rather fitting for the songs.
Personally, I feel it’s great that Zayn has finally found a way to express himself— he obviously had some rather… explicit feelings that were previously being suppressed; clearly One Direction took great care to ensure that their music only hinted at X-rated activity. However, what he needs to realize is that while he himself has taken his leave from the world of pop, he is still catering to the same audience. I’m not saying that he should make his music with only his fan base in mind, but I do believe that his transition into the new genre could have been less abrupt.
At the moment, I’m looking forward to seeing what else he does with his recently obtained creative liberty (I’m keeping a close eye on his Instagram profile). For the time being, Pillow Talk is good enough to gain a high position on the charts, and his previous 1D fame will certainly give it the boost that it requires to reach #1. However, the most pertinent question remains— will he be able to pull a Justin Timberlake and come out with a single that will become his new claim to fame? He’s on the right path for now; let’s just hope that he doesn’t take a wrong turn and find himself directionless.